Carlos Alcaraz’s breakthrough is not only verging on a “miracle” but could also turn out to be “sensational” for Rafael Nadal, according to Discovery tennis expert Alex Corretja.
The 18-year-old captured his first Masters title at the Miami Open on Sunday with a straight sets win over Casper Ruud – the latest milestone in his meteoric rise.
Alcaraz was 141st in the ATP rankings at the start of last season but his triumph in Florida has catapulted him to the brink of the world’s top 10.
His lightning progress has fuelled comparisons with fellow Spaniard Nadal, who sits at the top of the men’s game on 21 Grand Slam titles ahead of the clay-court swing.
Alcaraz was overwhelmed in their first meeting last year, winning just three games on the Madrid clay, but pushed the 35-year-old into a thrilling decider in their Indian Wells semi-final in March.
And after the youngster bounced back from that defeat to lift the trophy on the American east coast – becoming the third-youngster winner of an ATP Masters 1000 event after Michael Chang and Nadal himself – Corretja was enthused about the prospect of seeing his two compatriots drive each other on.
“I think it is just perfect, it is sensational for Rafa because he is the biggest champion that we have ever had,” said two-time French Open finalist and former world No. 2 Corretja.
“Now he has a new kid that he knows what is going on in his mind, and Rafa will need to go to the limit to pass him and to beat him.
“This is perfect for him because it will lead Rafa to still improve his game. He will find ways to beat Alcaraz because he played against him in Indian Wells and suffered so much. He knows that he needs to play at his best to beat him.
“He is much older, but he has got much more experience. He is the best ever, especially on clay, but facing Carlos will be a big challenge for him.
“So I think it is very good for him because he is going to be motivated to practise and to improve things to see how he can hurt Alcaraz or the other opponents.
“Being Spanish and both being great guys, both being very humble; and at the same time, seeing that the attention is with Rafa, but now he is sharing it with Alcaraz, I think he is going to enjoy it so much.
“Because Rafa is not jealous of Alcaraz. He knows that Alcaraz is great, but he still has so long to go in his career, and of course, one day hopefully Alcaraz will be close to Rafa.
“But, for the moment, he is only starting. So let’s go step-by-step, but this is huge for tennis, for Spanish tennis and overall for tennis itself. It is the best news we can have.”
Alcaraz will now turn his thoughts to the clay as he bids to emulate Nadal’s unparalleled success on the red dust.
And with Nadal still sidelined from a stress fracture in one of his left ribs, Corretja believes the teenager could halt the 13-time French Open champion’s quest for a record-extending title at Roland Garros.
“He has got a real shot of winning Roland Garros, for sure. He is going to be among the top three-four players to win the tournament,” continued Corretja.
“We need to see how the clay-court season goes, but definitely, right now, nobody likes to play against him, for sure, because you know that you will suffer. You see a guy that is flying on the court, he hits the ball hard, he defends well, and of course, you see that he is going to fight until the end.
“He has proved that his emotions… he is controlling them very well. Even if it’s a tie-break in the third [set], in very close moments, he knows how to deal with that. He is acting like he has lots of experience, but he is still very young. So that shows that he is very smart, very clever. He is very professional.
“This is a good hope for the future of tennis to see that you have guys that can be very humble, but at the same time, they can be very ambitious. This is a great combination to become a big champion.
“He needs to get different moments. The clay-court season is going to be very important to see how many matches he wins and how he gets to Roland Garros not being toast because he has been playing so many matches, and he has been winning most of them.
“Now, he needs to control his calendar, he needs to know where he wants to be at his peak, and he is only 18. So you have got this freshness of ‘okay, I can go with whatever they send me, they throw me’, but also, you need a little bit of experience that he still doesn’t have. But he is earning experience every day. So I think he is going to be ready for whoever he faces. It doesn’t matter if it is [Novak] Djokovic or [Rafael] Nadal, if it is [Alexander] Zverev or [Stefanos] Tsitsipas or whoever, I think he is ready.
“But of course, it is not a question of putting pressure on him, it is a reality. He is showing that he is ready, and when you are ready, that means that your level, it is high and it is big. So I think this is big news when they give you this sort of responsibility of being a good champion.”
Corretja admits the rise of Alcaraz is still difficult to comprehend and said his consistency and groundstrokes defied his tender years.
“What he has been doing is nearly a miracle because he has been improving so much. He was 300 in the world a few years ago, last year he was 100 and now he is 11. So his jump is just huge, which is very surprising,” said Corretja.
“Even if you see that he has got great talent and determination to be aggressive and to play well, the way he is playing – not only on clay but on hard courts – and the consistency he is having is impressing me so much.
“He played in Rio, he won; he came to the Davis Cup on clay, then he flew over to play in the semi-finals of Indian Wells, and now winning in Miami. This is something big and this is something very special. We understand that we need to look forward because he is going to be unbelievable in the present, and of course, in the future.
“His consistency is just amazing because he is moving extremely well, he is very aggressive. His forehand is huge, but his backhand… he has improved so much: he plays flat, and he can change to go down the line.
“Of course, when he is just running towards the ball he is very explosive. He is improving his serve, but still, this is the part of his game that he can still improve a lot.
He is brave, he likes to attack, but he also likes to defend. He doesn’t care to defend so he is finding a big combination to become an unbelievable, great player.
“He can dictate, but at the same time, when he needs to defend and hang in there, he does. This is something that not everyone has. Alcaraz, for sure, has got both, so this is unbelievable, and his attitude, it is always great, it is always positive and always with good character. So this is something I believe is very special.”